Orchestra must pull all the strings to survive
The Ulster Orchestra, like many arts organisations, is facing troubled times, and it now appears that the reduced funding is having a bearing on its tenure at the Ulster Hall.
In a recession it is inevitable that the arts is a soft target for cutbacks, and the effect is severe for organisations which enhance the cultural life of any city and region.
Earlier this year the Ulster Orchestra suffered a 15% cut in its funding from the Arts Council, and this is an immense sum, given that last year's grant was £2.19m.
The orchestra also receives funding from the BBC and Belfast City Council.
It also depends on sponsors such as Gallahers, but in these recessionary times, the sponsorship has been falling as well. This lack of funding bites hard, and the orchestra is now in the middle of negotiations about its occupancy of the Ulster Hall, which is ideally suited to its needs – including the concert hall on site for rehearsals and other activities.
Several years ago the orchestra negotiated a 25-year lease at the Ulster Hall, but earlier this year it decided to terminate this long-term agreement.
It is now reducing the area of occupancy and therefore the cost of renting space in the building.
It will still be based in the Ulster Hall while the orchestra's management finalises its business plan to account for the reduced Arts Council funding.
There is no doubt that the orchestra aims to stay in the Ulster Hall.
It should be given every encouragement to do so.
The harsh fact remains, however, that it will continue to face difficult financial challenges, and it is important that the new business plan will also involve a successful strategy for attracting a greater, wider and younger audience.
The Ulster Orchestra is one of the best in the United Kingdom and it plays a key role in the arts life of Northern Ireland.
It is the jewel in the arts crown, and everything possible must be done to ensure that it not only survives but flourishes.